EXCLUSIVE: With almost four decades having passed since the murder in Sydney of Turkish consul-general, Şarık Arıyak, a NSW Police taskforce has been formed to once again look into the unsolved case linked to Armenian terrorism. Some of the suspects are believed to be living quiet lives in the harbour city and elsewhere around Australia thinking they got away with murder, although recently released top secret ASIO documents may yet help flush them out. Lois Lane reports.
On December 17, 2019 NSW Police announced the formation of Strike Force Esslemont to re-examine the case of murdered Turkish consul-general, Şarik Ariyak, and his bodyguard, Engin Sever, in Sydney’s eastern suburbs on the very same day 39 years before.
The two men were gunned down outside the Dover Heights home of Mr Ariyak early in the morning of December 17, 1980 as they were leaving the Portland Street residence in two separate cars.
Along with the announcement, a one million dollar reward was offered to information that may lead to a conviction in the case. Mr Ariyak’s daughter, who was only eight-years-old at the time of his murder, travelled from Turkey for the announcement as well as a memorial service that was held in honour of her highly respected father. The murder is considered to be the first international politically-motivated attack on Australian soil.
Less than a fortnight after the announcement of the new police taskforce, on December 29, 2019 police released COMFIT images of two possible suspects, one of whom was said to have a large beard at the time. A digitally aged COMFIT image of the other possible suspect was also provided, showing a man who would be grey and aged in his 60s.
On the same day, it was also reported that the police were closing in on a suspect who moves between Sydney and Melbourne.
Responsibility for the the murders of Mr Ariyak and Mr Sever was claimed by the Justice Commandos of Armenian Genocide (JCAG), a group affiliated with the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF) which was founded in early 1890s.
JCAG had carried out a series of attacks in 1970s and 80s across the world, from a playbook of terrorism, possibly drawn out in places such as Lebanon, according to the CIA.
The killers often carry out a long surveillance of their target, hit at a time of weakness and flee without leaving a trace.
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The organisers were often trained at terror camps in Lebanon and fled back there after the attacks. However, attacks could only take place with the help of a very close-knit local support group, and such was the case for the Sydney murders according to police and ASIO’s assessments.
The Australian public once again heard of Armenian terror groups operating in the country in 1986, following the bombing of the Turkish consulate building in Melbourne. One of the bombers died, the other was convicted and served a 10-year jail time in Australia.
What the Australian public did not know was the enormous amounts of work that police and ASIO put in to keep the country in peace between 1980 and 1986.
COMFIT images of the two suspects released by NSW Police last month (Image: NSW Police)
Secret cabinet briefings from 1983 and 1986 – that have only recently been made publicly available – draw a more detailed picture of JCAG’s reign of terror and its activities in Australia. These documents have never before been revealed to the public by the media. Until now.
For example, the documents show that a major shipment of arms from Los Angeles to Australia organised by JCAG was intercepted in 1983.
The due diligence and hard work of ASIO formed the necessary deterrence to stop a major act of terrorism in Canberra by another JCAG cell.
What is visible in these publicly available documents is the network of suspects – a group of up to 10 people, who were under heavy surveillance for several years. They are all named in the ASIO documents.
The names of suspects and perpetrators of the 1980 attack on Mr Ariyak, the 1983 and 1985 plots that were thwarted, and the 1986 bombing, are almost the same.
Unfortunately, the 1980 killings went unpunished, and the murders of Mr Ariyak and his bodyguard were declared unsolved in March 1983. The detectives told the coroner that despite having serious suspects, they had failed to gather enough evidence to charge them.
One of the suspects for example was said to be a woman with a heavy accent that called the local media outlets following Mr Ariyak and Mr Sever’s murders. The woman who called media outlets was probably the same woman that was spotted by one of the witnesses a week before the attack on Fernleigh Avenue in Rose Bay. According to the newspapers of the time, she told the witness that she was waiting for friends. On another occasion, two men asked the same witness whether Fernleigh Avenue led to a main road, again within a week prior to the attack.
The ASIO documents also name a main female suspect of the 1980 attack, as being a party to the thwarted plot in 1983 to bring weapons into Australia via Los Angeles.
Murdered outside his home in Sydney’s east in 1980: Turkish consul-general Şarik Ariyak (Image: NSW Police)
The convicted perpetrator of the 1986 attack, was a suspect of 1980 attack who travelled to Australia months before the killings and left for a four year holiday in Lebanon at the end of summer 1981. Family members of that man were suspects for plotting a major act of terror in Canberra in 1985, according to ASIO documents publicly available on the National Library.
We are not implying that any of these people named in the ASIO documents were responsible for the highest profile terror attack on Australian soil at the time. But just like a true crime series on Netflix, we are putting together the pieces scattered out there for our audience to discover the truth for themselves.